ALBERTA

Nenshi Says Gay-Straight Alliance Bill 10 Would Reinforce Albertans As 'Hillbillies'

12/12/2014 12:12 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Calgary's mayor says a now-delayed Alberta government bill about gay-straight alliances in schools would have focused international attention on "what kind of hillbillies we are."

During a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Naheed Nenshi called the debate over Bill 10 "damaging and hateful."

Premier Jim Prentice put the legislation on hold last week, saying he wanted to hear more from all sides before proceeding with it.

Nenshi said the bill would have done nothing but reinforce negative stereotypes about the province.

He said at a time when oil prices are dropping and cities face infrastructure problems, it was "ridiculous" that the legislature spent two weeks talking about "what club a kid in school can join or not."

Nenshi thanked Prentice and called him a "good guy for putting the brakes on this thing."

Gay-straight alliances, which are friendship clubs for gay students and supportive classmates, already exist in 94 public schools in Edmonton and Calgary but there are none in rural or faith-based schools.

Earlier this fall, Liberal Laurie Blakeman introduced a private member's bill which would have given students the right to set up GSAs in their schools. But the Tories countered with a bill of their own which would have encouraged the establishment of the clubs but left the final decision up to schools and school boards.

The initial version of Bill 10 suggested if those steps were unsuccessful, students would be free to pursue the matter in the courts. The Tories later amended that to promise that if the schools said no, the government would set up the clubs.

But critics said forcing students off school grounds to set up a GSA was akin to segregation of blacks in the United States in the middle of the last century.

"If we say that we live in a city where we were thinking it would be OK for a 15-year-old to appear before a judge to ask the judge if a 15-year-old can start a club in his school, a club that no one would forced to belong to?" Nenshi said Thursday.

"Well, folks, that would be the Scopes Monkey trial of Alberta. We would end up having international attention toward what kind of hillbillies we are. None of us need that."

See the full text of Nenshi's address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce after the slideshow:

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FULL TEXT OF NENSHI'S SPEECH:

"I pitch this city across Canada, and when I make that pitch, it may surprise you to know, I always get the same question. And I bet that question is going to surprise you, because you live here and you wouldn’t think this is a question.

"And the question I always get is: ‘Is Calgary welcoming? Is it homophobic? Is it racist? Is it diverse? Will not only I be accepted, but will my friends be accepted?’

"And, of course, I always say: ‘Look at me. I’m the mayor. We’re very welcoming, and for the vast majority of us, this place, our home, is the absolute epitome of meritocracy, of multiculturalism, of pluralism, of support, and of success.’

"But, I’ve got to tell you – the last couple of weeks in the provincial legislature have not made my job any easier.

"This damaging and hateful debate that we’ve been having in the provincial legislature around Bill 202 and Bill 10 does nothing but reinforce negative stereotypes.

"Two weeks ago, a member of the legislative assembly got up and proposed a bill that said any kid in school can set up a club and suddenly our provincial legislators – in a time when the price of oil is dropping, in a time when our infrastructure needs are extraordinary, in a time when we have urban and regional issues that we’ve got to get more done on – spent two weeks talking about what club a kid in school can join or not.

"How ridiculous is that? How additionally ridiculous is it that we know that these clubs help kids stay safe?

"We know that these clubs prevent suicide, among a group where one third of the kids attempt suicide, and we have the gall to say: ‘We have to balance off your rights.’ That your rights don’t include the right to be safe? To have support to prevent you from attempting suicide? What kind of a world do we live in here?

"So thank you very much to the premier, who is a good guy, for putting the brakes on this thing, and putting this thing on pause, because what was happening was dangerous. By saying not all rights are absolute, the government seemed to be saying that our children don’t have the right to be safe. That’s not right. That’s not fair.

"I could go on. OK, I will.

“If we say that we live in a city where we were thinking it would be OK for a 15-year-old to appear before a judge to ask the judge if the 15-year-old can start a club in his school that no one would be forced to belong to, well folks, that would the Scopes Monkey Trial of Alberta. We would end up having international attention toward what kinds of hillbillies we are. None of us need that.

"Today is the day for us to say, straight out, that we are indeed welcoming, that we are indeed working hard to make sure that every single person can succeed here, because that is the core of our strength.

"And I’m going to say something else to you, and I’m going to get political for a second, and I rarely get political, as you know. And, by the way, I hate it when the province talks about municipal issues, and so I’ve been holding my tongue on this for a while, but in the end we have to talk about humanity, and we have to talk about human-rights issues and what makes our place successful.

"We often hear people talk about why they vote, and sometimes we vote because we don’t believe or we do believe in a certain tax. Sometimes we vote to protect our narrow self-interests.

"But this conversation that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks gives us a very interesting reason to vote, because sometimes, we’ve got to vote just for what’s right. We’ve got to vote for the kind of community we want. We’ve got to vote for our dreams.

"And this would be a wonderful opportunity for you to let your MLAs know that your vote is available, that your vote is available for people who are committed to making Calgary and Alberta welcoming to everyone, to make sure that everyone – no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from, no matter whom they worship, no matter how they love – has the opportunity to live a great life right here.

"And that we will vote for that community. And that we will vote for that community that we want. And tell your MLA to do the right thing by these kids."

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